Category Archives: GLBT fiction

“How to Survive a Summer: A Novel” by Nick White— The Trauma of a Gay-to-Straight Conversion Camp

White, Nick. “How to Survive a Summer: A Novel”, Blue Rider Press. 2017.

The Trauma of a Gay-to-Straight Conversion Camp

Amos Lassen

When he was younger, graduate student Will Dillard was forced to go to gay conversion camp and he thought he had buried his memories of that terrible experience. However, when he finds out a horror movie based on the camp is hitting theaters, he’s forced to face his past and the role he played in another camper’s death. As he remembers his supposed rehabilitation, he takes an impromptu trip back to his Mississippi home and to the camp itself to so that he can deal with those memories and solve the mystery that took place there. Written in the first person, Will’s story is told in flashback and brings together the genres of self discovery, horror, thriller and mystery.

The story starts in the present day as Will Dillard tries to find his place in today’s world. He realizes that he is misplaced and has no strong convictions about anything. His journey of discovery forces him to deal with the memories of that camp and bring past and present together.

The novel has great depth with well-drawn characters who spring to life as we read about them. White writes about the past and the present with detail and it all seems very real. What I especially liked is the way White presents Will who in the beginning is quite the irritating character but who grows in many ways thus causing us to care about him and his life. Will was fifteen when he was sent to camp in the summer of 1999 and he was there for almost four weeks. During that period he was supposed to cured of his homosexuality. This did not happen. Now as a graduate student studying film, he is unable to stay in a romantic relationship and finds that he has a hard time maintaining any kind of human relationship. He has trouble remaining in the present due to the traumas of Camp Levi and he has never been able to discuss with anyone what happened that summer. He therefore has led a solitary life.

The aforementioned horror will is based on a memoir of someone he knew that summer and it has been catching on with the public, causes Will to face his traumatic past and the secrets it contains. Will knows that this is what has kept him from being able to confide in someone else and he is fearful about bringing that summer back. He decides to head home for a bit and to see his father, a former preacher, from whom he has been estranged. As this happens, Will understands that the past cannot be isolated.

Back home, he meets two of his fellow campers and one former counselor, all of whom were part of the events of that summer and Will decides the only thing he can do is go back to the campsite and face what happened and his own complicity in those events. He must also deal with his own identity and the family secrets he has tried to keep hidden as well as those he has taken as his own. Because he has been told over and over that he is an abomination, he is unable to love himself or anyone else.

Will’s journey is not a “straight” one as the book sometimes detours into stories about his family and the stories that his mother told him about women who lived where she was raised. Ultimately, however this is Will’s story as he confronts his demons and deal with his past once and for all. Many will be horrified at what the camp did to those who attended and writer White’s retelling of these events is masterful.

Since I am from the South and spent time in Mississippi, I was especially interested in how White would depict the area and I can tell you that his descriptions of Southern culture, characters and geography are right on. In Mississippi, evangelism and homophobia are intertwined totally. We certainly see the codependence of faith and fear and I am sure that this was not thought of when the world came into being with the evangelical idea of creation.

White’s novel is a story about stories and if you think about that sentence for a moment, you will understand what I am saying here. Identity, family and trauma rub up against each other is lucid and lyrical prose. This is a story that must be told. This is a story that vice president Mike Pence needs to read and have read to him over and over again.


“Since I Laid My Burden Down” by Brontez Purcell— Who Deserves to Be Loved

Purnell, Brontez. “Since I Laid My Burden Down”, Amethyst Editions, 2017.

Who Deserves to Be Loved

Amos Lassen

Brontez Purnell looks at what it means to be “black, male, queer; a son, an uncle, a lover; Southern, punk, and human” and as he does he tells a story that we have way too few of.

DeShawn has been living in San Francisco in a life style that he could never had in his hometown in Alabama. He is called home to attend his uncle’s funeral and once there his mind fills with memories and reminders of what it was like to grow up in such a place that is so different from where he lives now. He begins to ponder the very serious question of who is deserving of love. He understands that what he is doing is trying to see how his early sexual experiences have caused him to be who he has become.


“Wicked Frat Boy Ways” by Todd Gregory— Love, Seduction and Emotions

Gregory, Todd. “Wicked Frat Boy Ways”, Bold Strokes Books, 2017.

Love, Seduction and Emotions

Amos Lassen

Todd Gregory is a name we associate with gay erotic writing and while we have not heard from him in quite a while, he is back with new novel. Set on the campus of Polk State, we meet seniors Brandon Benson and Phil Connor, fraternity brothers who play a game of seduction yet they do not think about the damage they cause and so not understand that they are playing with others’ emotions until it is too late. The sex scenes are graphic but I had a rough time remembering who was who because of the way the story is told and the number of characters that we meet. In fact, each chapter is the perspective of a different person.

I had the impression that held together the friendship between Phil and Brandon friendship was their daring each other. Something was missing about how they were so close. Phil is the president of his fraternity, and the two figured that this would allow for a lot of fun with the pledges and new members. What they did not understand was that sex is not a game and that could be consequences for their thoughtless actions. I found nothing in either of their personalities that made me feel anything positive about them but I suspect that is what the author wanted.

I also felt that setting gay erotica in a fraternity was a but if a stretch even though there are gay fraternity brothers even though sexuality in the house was acceptable and there were a few gay men who were members. Again, this could be deliberate as if to say that there are gay people everywhere. Having been a gay fraternity man myself, I remember well how difficult it was to be so but then it was at a different time in history.

It is always difficult to read about main characters that are despicable. Not only are they difficult to find ways to identify with them, they are responsible for dealing with others’ lives. Yet, for some reason I was fascinated by them and they certainly kept me reading. I was totally blindsided by the ending and so after I finished reading the book, I sat quietly for an hour letting what I had just finished sink in. As I wrote, I realized that the problems I had with the book were actually set ups so that we could get a different perspective of gay life even if it is one that does not please the average reader and I understood that this was the true genius of the writer’s work.











“Gatecrasher: The Maverick Heart Cycle” by Stephen Graham King— Artificial Intelligence

King, Stephen Graham. “Gatecrasher: The Maverick Heart Cycle”, Bold Strokes Books, 2017.

Artificial Intelligence

Amos Lassen

I have always found it difficult to review a book in a series if I have not read the book that came before it but if a publisher sends me a review copy, then I must find a way to review it. Such is the case with “Gatecrasher” which I now understand is the second book in the projected trilogy of “The Maverick Heart Cycle”. Given the amount of reading that I do, I just do not have the time to read every book in a series so I am letting you know that this review might be a little off.

I had a great deal of trouble getting into this book and I am fairly sure that I am not a fan of science fiction, I was missing the prequel and I know nothing about artificial intelligence (except for what the present presidential administration lets us see and that is actually more stupidity than artificial intelligence). All I could gather was that this had something to do with the bringing together of IA and the fantastic. I understand that is about what will happen when the universe becomes a place where AI is totally integrated with mortality.

We read about the realities of “surviving hard vacuum that makes for lasting relationships” as well as the thin line between human perception and technology is finely woven. Vrick has evolved to recognize and respond with “emotion” and the vessel upon which he travels, “The Maverick Heart” together with himself has the responsibility to be all things to its crew and is the last of his kind. There us a war to free all those AI from the rule of humans. (To be quite honest I have little idea of what I am writing about just as I had little idea of what I read).

Vrick has to use all he knows about self-preservation for the survival of his crew and their friends. He learns about a gate that has been secretly constructed and that there are gates that are totally functional. The Gates redefine traveling the intergalactic and Vrick and his crew felt they had to explore this new construction. However, there are those who are willing to kill and destroy in order to control the Gates’ technology.

Members of Vrick’s crew include Ember Avanti, a new member of the team who becomes dependent on anew relationship formed with Keene. He has been deeply affected by the death and destruction that has been going on; Keene is part of Vrick’s original crew and family and has become hardened by space yet he is committed to his job. He and Ember become more than close friends. Alexa Blue lives hard, fights hard and most of loves hard. She has a unshakable bond with Keene an emotional attachment with Vrick. Vrick (Maverick Heart) is the galactic ship.

I wish I could find the story here especially after having read two very positive reviews of the book. However, I was unable to do so and was lost the entire time that I tried to understand what was going on and who was who. But again this might just be my own prejudice. Hopefully the publisher will take note of that and of the problem with sending the second book of a series without having sent the first. If you think that I do not know what I am talking about, you are correct.


“Condo Heartbreak Disco” by William Kostiuk— Saving Toronto

Kostiuk, William. “Condo Heartbreak Disco”, Koyama, 2017.

Saving Toronto

Amos Lassen

Like in so many cities, Toronto’s neighborhoods are being taken over by skyscrapers and communities are being replaced by condo buildings. Gentrification seems to be taking over so many big cities in the United States and Canada. Rents are getting higher and higher and cheaper living spaces are becoming harder to find. Neighborhoods, and art scenes are being razed to be replaced by expensive condos and apartments.

Eric Kostiuk Williams’ “Condo Heartbreak Disco” is a comic look at gentrification in Toronto, Canada, but it is actually true for any gentrified city. Williams gives us two surreal protagonist superheroes in Komi, a gender fluid shape shifter and the Willendorf Braid, a twenty-first century rendition of the Venus of Willendorf. They are at times both helpful and horrible as they take us guide us through the past, present and future and show us what is happening in the new corporate world of today and of the future. They are surrounded by the symptoms of gentrification and Komio speculates that the of today parents are modern day soldiers of fascist futuristic ideals. Speed has replaced all that had been.

Komio spots a young photographer who takes pictures of neighborhood people and posts them online where is work is found by real estate developers, who map his street art to locate future spots of new developments. This is exactly the opposite of what the photographer intended. Our two heroes team up with an activist and they learn that they are being evicted in order to make way for a new housing development. There are those who seek out to the developers and it is really difficult to stop what will eventually reconstruct the city. May of the buildings to be torn down were built with the idea that they would remain empty. They were constructed as investments in order to keep prices up.

Here is the true absurdity of the capitalist transformation of cities; they seem to change before our eyes and we have no voice to say anything about it We become fully aware of how we are shaped by how we live. Here it is up to Komio and The Willendorf Braid to save the city. Their motivation is quite clear—- revenge and personal guidance.



“Return to Summerville” by H. L. Sudler— Back to Rehoboth Beach

Sudler, H.L. “Return to Summerville”, Archer Books, 2017.

Back to Rehoboth Beach

Amos Lassen

It is summertime in Rehoboth Beach and secrets are about to become public. With the summer comes the beautiful people who want to enjoy the beautiful setting of great weather and days that bring sun, sand, sex and relaxation. However for some of the people there, memories of the previous summer are still strong.

This is a sequel to H.L. Sudler’s “Summerville” and is a wonderful summer read. The characters who managed to last through the first book return to us here and Sudler brings us fascinating character studies. As secrets come to light, the plot becomes and more interesting. Fluttering above our introduction to those characters is a feeling of dread that captures us and has turning pages as quickly as possible. It is difficult to forget the summer before and even during moments of pleasure, the past hangs over the vacationers as they face a summer of “mystery, betrayal, danger, murder, and sheer terror”.

Author H.L. Sudler in his author’s note at the end of the book reminds us that this is a soap opera and we are all aware of how many enjoy episodic stories especially with their twists, turns and cliffhangers. Because the setting here is a small-town, it is easy for us to get to know the players and as we do, the story forms in our minds and does not let us go. One of the reasons that it is hard to review something like “Return to Summerville” is the risk of giving something away and spoiling the read for others. That is why I have not used character’s names and not said much about the intricate plots that make up this novel. We see the characters as evolving through the story and I am almost certain that readers will choose their own characters to follow more closely than others. As the characters move the story forward, they move the reader as well.

Without giving their names, I will tell you that one of the characters is here to make sure he succeeds in whatever he does and in order to do so, he lets no one stand in his way. Another character’s presence changes the way others are sharing their vacation and yet another is determined to find the life that he has dreamt of and yet another has a secret that yields a revelation that shocks both the others and the readers. I can’t say anymore than to urge you to get the book and spend some time with it but also to remember that another sequel is coming that will give us even more surprises.






“Terms We Have for Dreaming” by Eric Arvin— Eric Arvin, Gone Too Soon

Arvin, Eric. “Terms We Have for Dreaming”, Dreamspinner Press, 2017.

Eric Arvin, Gone Too Soon

Amos Lassen

Eric Arvin left us way too soon. I met Arvin when I first became reviewing and “The Rest is Illusion” is one of the first books I reviewed in my present website format. I was taken by his prose and his characters. I read everything Arvin wrote and I watch his writing mature and I am so proud to have been with him from his first book to his last. I watch him change publishers and saw his plots become more intricate and I often felt that I was watching the development of a fine writer. I was sorry that a writer of his caliber ended up with a small press like Dreamspinner because he deserved so much more.

Three hundred souls. That is all. In the last two years of his life, Arvin gravitated toward speculative fiction and that is what we have here and I quote his blurb since it says what this book is about so much better that I can.

“The entire world, all of human existence, comes to three hundred souls born and reborn again. No more and no less. Countless billions of people share these souls, each individual with a slight piece or sliver of grace. But when gods corrupt and upset the most delicate of balances, a hero must come forth to lead people toward a brighter day and a better life”. Like that last sentence, Eric Arvin became a hero and I can only hope that he is free of pain and having a better life than he had here with us.

“Six Neckties” by Johnny Diaz— The Power of Love

Diaz, Johnny. “Six Neckties”, CreateSpace, 2017.

The Power of Love

Amos Lassen

I have been reading Johnny Diaz’s books for several years now and, in fact, he is one of the reasons that I wanted to move to Boston. He has painted a picture of New England as a place where gay men and women can live peacefully lives and his experiences let me know that there is a great deal here to be enjoyed. However, it has been a while since we heard from him so I was glad to hear that he has a new book, “Six Neckties”.

Tommy Perez is a magazine writer in Maine and he has a collection of neckties that come from the weddings he has been in (as a groomsman or as best man). To Tommy it appears that all of his gay friends are getting married and as they do, he gets a tie and they get the man. When he reaches his fourth tie, he begins to wonder if he will ever be the one to say, “I do”.

Things begin to improve for Tommy when he suddenly meets Danny, a cute freelance photographer who shoots a friend’s wedding in Provincetown. Danny is cute enough that he should be in front of the camera rather than behind it and Tommy is smitten. However, there is the complication that comes in the form of Ignacio, a sexy and slightly older guest house manager who begins to going after Tommy’s heart in Ogunquit, the small town where they both live. Tommy who seemed to be so ready for love now questions himself if that is really true. As he helps his best friends Rico and Carlos prepare for their wedding, Tommy reexamines his past relationship with his ex Mikey who had problems with alcohol when they lived in Boston. Now that he has two potential love interests in his life, Tommy wonders whether this time he will be the one giving neckties to his groomsmen. The only way you will find the answer to that question is to read the book. I can only say that heading for the aisle is a lot of fun.

“Notes of a Crocodile” by Qui Miaojin— A Queer Taiwanese Coming of Age Novel

Miaojin, Qui. “Notes of a Crocodile”, (NYRB Classics), translated by Bonnie Huie, New York Review of Books, 2017.

A Queer Taiwanese Coming of Age Novel

Amos Lassen

The English-language premiere of Qiu Miaojin’s “Notes of a Crocodile”, coming-of-age novel about queer teenagers in Taiwan is a cult classic in China and winner of the 1995 China Times Literature Award.

The novel is set in the post-martial-law era of late-1980s Taipei, and is a coming-of-age story of “queer misfits discovering love, friendship, and artistic affinity while hardly studying at Taiwan’s most prestigious university”. The story is told through the eyes of an anonymous lesbian narrator nicknamed Lazi and is a postmodern mixture of diaries, vignettes, mash notes, aphorisms, exegesis, and satire by a major countercultural figure. Our narrator is dealing with her fatalistic attraction to Shui Ling, an older woman, and so she turns for support to a circle of friends that includes a rich kid turned criminal and his troubled, self-destructive gay lover. There is also a bored, mischievous overachiever and her a slacker artist girlfriend.

This is a novel of social defiance and liberation from the strictures of gender through radical self-inquiry. It is something of a “survival manual for teenagers”. Author Qiu Miaojin moves back and forth between two narratives whose only connection is thematic. The first story is “the coming-of-age of a group of queer misfits” while the second story provides the novel’s title: a crocodile wearing a human suit reflects on how people vehemently advocate both for and against crocodiles, despite knowing nothing about them and not even realizing that at least one crocodile lives and works among them. The common theme between the two stories is separation, isolation, and the tendency of some to make authoritative statements about a group with whom there are no shared experiences. We see that in the final analysis, our knowledge and understanding of crocodiles is almost nil but as is the customary practice of advanced nations, we safeguard information within our grasp and hold onto it as if we depend upon it to stay alive. The strong message we get here is that the more we love and the more we feel compassion for, the more we realize that there are others who suffer just as we do. We begin to understand that human civilization is ugly and cruel, and the only thing to do is to destroy it so that we see that closeness is the one true constant in relationships.



” A Shared Darkness” by Gerald Lopez— A New Series

Lopez, Gerald. “A Shared Darkness” ADS, 2017.

Book One of a Stratham Town Father Andrew Trilogy

Amos Lassen

A new book by Gerald Lopez is always a pleasure since his stories are so much fun to read. Set in the town of Stratham, Florida, the residents are scared by several deadly events. Father Andrew Madera helps investigate what is going on but he soon learns that there are dark secrets in the town that can cause even more terrifying results once are exposed. He enlists other priests to work with him and among those working with him is the very handsome Vincent Farragate. We see that priests are so much more than just “nice guys”.

Lopez sets up quite a mystery and gives us a lot to think about. In fact, there are actually two mysteries and a look at what goes on in the world of priests. This is a non-stop read so before you start plan your day so that you have set aside enough time to read this as I did, in one sitting. You will not be disappointed.